Review: Ashes in the Snow by Ruta Sepetys

Ashes in the Snow is a beautiful and touching story about hope and the power of love. With complex characters, succinct writing, and a premise rooted in real history, it’s a book definitely worth picking up.

On a semi-related note: As you might have noticed, I’ve been working to update my blog aesthetic as well as the structure of my posts over the past few weeks. I finally got to implement my new theme and graphics over the weekend. Thanks for bearing with me through the changes, and hopefully I can bring you great content to match my new look!

Now, onto the review.

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TITLE: Ashes in the Snow (Movie Tie-In Edition)
AUTHOR: Ruta Sepetys
GENRE: Historical fiction
ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: March 2011 at Penguin
PAGES: 384
RATING: ⭑ ⭑ ⭑ ⭑ ½


Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

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Ashes in the Snow — previously published as Between Shades of Gray — follows Lina, a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl, and her family from the moment Soviet officers break into their home in the middle of the night. That night begins a series of harrowing events over the course of over a decade as Lina, her mother, and her younger brother are deported from their homeland and sent to the desolate wastelands of Siberia. But throughout this journey, Lina finds comfort in the smallest things: her art, the hope that her father may be still alive, and most of all, the love that the deportees show each other even in the midst of unimaginable despair.

This book has been on my TBR for forever, and it did not disappoint! Ruta Sepetys’s attention to detail and meticulous research shines through in her debut. I really had no idea that people from the Baltic states went through so much suffering during World War II. By focusing on the fact that the Soviet Union was an Allied force during the war, we forget about the countless people who were oppressed under Stalin, especially the ones who were criminalized and silenced like the characters of Ashes in the Snow.

The short chapters, along with the brief but comprehensive writing style — Sepetys’s signature — made for a relatively quick read. But in no way does that detract from the complexity of the characters or the depth of the emotions conveyed.

I loved seeing how the deportees formed unlikely bonds with each other, as well as the blossoming romance between Lina and Andrius. Lina’s relationship with her mother, brother, and father keeps her going throughout the book, and I enjoyed reading about how the family’s bond influences her decisions.

I really enjoyed reading Lina’s narration. However, I do wish that she went through more development as a character throughout the book. Kretzsky’s character touched me from the moment his moral dilemma was revealed. Sepetys does a fantastic job of showing that — as the original title implies — the world is made up of shades of gray. I think it’s safe to say, though, that Lina’s mother Elena is the true heroine of this story. She never loses hope and persists in seeing the good in everyone, whether friend or foe. Her last scene in the book had me literally sobbing.

The open ending added the finishing touch to the beauty of this book. Although the reader doesn’t get to see the full resolution of the events of the story, knowing that the characters will continue to persist in their hope come what may drives the message of love home.

We’d been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean. I realized that if we boosted one another, maybe we’d get a little closer.

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Abby the Christian Bookworm

One of the things I most admired about Elena’s character in this book is her sense of serenity no matter what comes her way. She always seems to be walking on solid ground, even when the world she knew is falling apart around her, and persists in showing her love to everyone she knows, something we should all strive to emulate. As the Scripture says: Those who love your instructions have great peace and do not stumble. (Psalm 119:165 NLT)

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How about you? Have you read Between Shades of Gray? What did you think of it? Chat with me in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Review: Ashes in the Snow by Ruta Sepetys

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